Some news outlets have begun making some noise that Jake Evans may be coming close to signing his entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens because he has completed his fourth season at Notre Dame.
One part of this is true: Notre Dame’s regular season is over. But Evans signing any time soon is not to be expected.
Evans has had a career year so far. Although he didn’t quite match his point total from last season (38 this year versus 42 last season), Evans was the leading scorer in the NCAA for long stretches this year, was the captain of his team, was part of Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in what many viewed as a potential audition for the Olympic Team, and topped off his season with a Hobey Baker Award nomination as the NCAA’s top male hockey player.
Evans reached the first stage of Hobey Baker consideration by being nominated as a top three player in the Big Ten, his NCAA conference. From there the next stage is the selection of the top ten candidates, tabulated based on vote count, and usually announced around mid-March. The top ten are dwindled down to three finalists after another series of voting done by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Selection Committee, and announced at the end of March.
The winner of the Award is then announced at an awards ceremony on April 6, 2018, which is the night before the NCAA Championship. It is this part which is probably most relevant to this story and to Evans’ near future.
Notre Dame has had an exceptional season and are ranked fifth among all Division I NCAA teams, behind the powerhouse St. Cloud State, followed by Cornell, Minnesota State, and Denver. As a result a deep post-season should not be unexpected.
The first phase in Notre Dame’s post-season is the Big Ten Tournament. Since Notre Dame finished first in the conference, they get an automatic bye to the semi-finals which are on March 10 against the winner of a best-of-three series between Ohio State and Michigan State. The finals of the Big Ten Tournament are on March 17.
Regardless of whether Notre Dame wins or loses the Big Ten Tournament, they are guaranteed a first-round game on March 23 in the NCAA Regional since they are conference champions. If Notre Dame wins two single elimination games at the Regionals, they qualify for the NCAA Frozen Four tournament starting on April 5, leading to the NCAA Championship game on April 7.
As long as Notre Dame keeps winning, Evans will not sign an entry-level contract with the Canadiens, mainly because it will invalidate his NCAA eligibility. For a captain to abandon his college team during this crucial time in order to play a few games with the Montreal Canadiens to burn a year off of his entry-level contract, or to play on an ATO with the Laval Rocket, seems highly unlikely.
When he does sign an NHL entry-level contract, it will be a two-year contract, as per the terms of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. Whether that will be with the Canadiens remains to be seen. The Canadiens hold his rights until August 15, after which Evans is free to explore free agency just like newest Hab Mike Reilly, Justin Schultz, Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey did before him.